Contrarian Opinion or Heresy…Liberals Decide

| June 12, 2018

The editorial pages of U.S. newspapers, famously bastions of partisan leanings and convictions, are largely intolerant of views that oppose or contradict their respective abiding principles. Such a practice has also begun to emerge on the opinion pages of the same newspapers. This consequential failing undermines dialogue and ultimate truth while fueling misconception.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are two of America’s foremost newspapers that reach millions of people. Each of these papers contain an editorial page which is controlled by an editorial staff. That page is aimed at sharing with readers the views of the newspaper on a particular issue.

The hyper-partisanship on the editorial pages has spread to the opinion pages as well. The opinion pages of newspapers are supposed to educate readers on a diverse range of issues but they have become increasingly focused on presenting the view of the newspaper on hyper-partisan issues while largely ignoring any sort of objection.

Bret Stephens was a Wall Street Journal opinion columnist for many years, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2013 for his revealing Foreign Affairs column. As the Wall Street Journal continued to voice their support for then candidate, President Donald Trump, Stephens was in an awkward position as a conservative, stark Trump denouncer.

Stephens eventually left his position as deputy editorial page editor at the Wall Street Journal for the New York Times because of fundamental differences between Stephens’ views and the views of the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times appointed Bret Stephens as a opinion columnist in an apparent effort to reach across the aisle to both Trump supporters and conservatives. The response among readers to Stephens’ first column is enlightening.

Stephens wrote the column, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” about the relation between climate change date and certitude, on April 28, 2017 for the Opinion Pages of the New York Times. He says the following: “we respond to the inherent uncertainties of data by adding more data without revisiting our assumptions, creating an impression of certainty that can be lulling, misleading and often dangerous.”

The relation between certitude and data is certainly something all Americans should consider. Is the data 100% accurate? Is the data factually infallible? Sometimes, we simply cannot know.

Stephens argues for “less certitude” and more evaluation regarding the future; seemingly an innocuous argument. Readers of the New York Times and other liberal journalists certainly did not agree.

Stephens was faced with a barrage of letters that urged him to rethink his views on climate change. Those who responded clearly missed the objective of Stephens’ article because they were so blinded by the apparent discord.

Stephens even quoted Andrew Revkin, a famed journalist who holds degrees in both journalism and environmental studies, saying “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming.” Notwithstanding, the responses abounded.

Some objections were posted on Twitter. Some were sent to Stephens’ office. However, one response in particular stood out. The New York Times published a response through their Public Editor, who is charged with overseeing the newspaper’s integrity.

The Public Editor at the time, Liz Spayd, says the following regarding the column, “Few readers question the notion of having a conservative on the Op-Ed pages, with some caveats. But they thought it was a pugnacious move on Stephens’s part to choose climate change as his first target.” Spayd’s comment shows the problem that is facing American journalism and the political system.

Americans do not mind knowing that there is a side of opposition. It is largely unavoidable. However, Americans, especially those with liberal leanings, do mind when one of their strong convictions is questioned. It apparently seems “pugnacious,” to engage in such dialogue.

The inability to engage in such a dialogue does not bode well for the future. Stephens responded to his column’s reaction by telling Spayd, “The dominant mode of liberal disagreement in many cases is to express contempt.” Disagreement should not spark contempt but rather curiosity and further engagement.

The disagreement surrounding Stephens position on the opinion pages is emblematic of the current political strife. Stephens’ 2017 piece and the reaction that surrounded it, is part of the archetype of tension between liberals and conservatives.

The Trump Administration and conservatives are facing this daily as they try to make peace with North Korea or make progress with Iran. The liberal media, establishment and elite are not even willing to engage or assign credit where it is due.

John Jost, a Professor of Psychology at New York University, wrote in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, that liberals abide to psychology that calls “to treat different values equally.” This causes discord because the “different values” are only progressive values, which ignore conservative ideas and principles.

Liberals preach tolerance and acceptance yet not when it comes to the tolerance of conservative principles. The inability to respect or engage another view will surely lead to further discord, partisanship and ideological stagnation, as seen in the reaction surrounding Bret Stephens 2017 piece.